Processing what it means to be a lifelong Brand New fan in the wake of the sex abuse revelations of front man Jesse Lacey
Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty face, the kind you’d find on someone I could save.
If they don’t put me away, it’ll be a miracle.
Perhaps the least important, most selfish reaction to the recent revelations that Jesse Lacey solicited nude photos from a teenager is that it’s ruined your favorite band for you. But for a lot of people, it has. My experience is below.
For nearly two decades—more than two-thirds of my life—Brand New songs have given words to my best and worst impulses. I have so many memories with this band: blasting their debut out the window of my first car, covering “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” in the church shows of our local scene, playing their fourth album Daisy all night long on the night before I left for college. Their songs comforted me at my lowest moments with whispers and shouts. Their concerts were a safe space before I knew what the word was, a communion rite with the kids who felt like me. It’s not just a band; it’s a part of me. They are quite literally a reason why I am still here.
In a moment, that’s gone. It’s broken and it can’t be fixed. The only thing I can do is write about it. And perhaps it’s an egocentric way to process, but it’s how I’m doing it.
“Hide your daughters,” the old men say.
“You were young once before, you know how we get our way.”
In the last 24 hours, I can’t help but recontextualize every lyric that pops into my head. Lines about masks that hide your true self, about knowing you don’t deserve any praise, about cloaking your anxieties and depression to find grace. There’s always been self-flagellation in this kind of music, a feeling that so many of their young and growing fans could identify with when they were screaming along in cars and crowds across the country. The reason we cared so much about these lyrics were that we felt like they were speaking for us. It makes the nature of these sins even worse—it’s a betrayal of the trust between a band and its most vulnerable fans. I felt like Jesse was speaking for me. That’s a lie; he was always speaking for himself.
So how’s it feel to walk around like you’re some kind of freak?
You’re just an actor but now they caught you, ashamed of what you used to be.
I’ve been thinking about the voyeurism of the recent purging of sexual abusers in the entertainment industry—the cycle of rumor, allegation, furor, public statement, public reactions, silence, penance. It’s like sweating out a fever that’s stained our souls, and we’re only just realizing it. We live in a toxic world with a fucked up reaction to fame and sexuality. The nature of art has us identify with the artists as protagonists, and we tend to side with the creators who made us feel less alone. There are already fans who will try to reason their way out of how terrible this makes them feel, how these are just allegations from 15 years ago and hoping that, somehow, it isn’t true. (According to a new statement from Jesse, it is.) There’s victim-blaming, as if teenage girls being starstruck is an excuse for someone they admire to do a world-shattering act.
I’ve been thinking of the woman who went through this abuse. She’s from our scene, our family. She’s had to hear people call her abuser a genius. She’s had to hear his songs come on at a bar and people sing along to lyrics that in some way are about her trauma. I don’t know if this reckoning makes her feel thrilled or exhausted or confused, if her pleas being suddenly acknowledged feel like a weight lifting or just another step of a nightmare that she’s been dealing with for more than half of her life. I worry about whether writing something like this is making it worse. I hope not.
I’ve been wondering if Jesse has been waiting for this moment, for the other shoe to drop. I think about the message behind “137”, a song from their latest album that I was a week away from tattooing on myself as a birthday present. 137, the element caesium with an extensive half-life that’s a product of nuclear fallout. Leaving a legacy of poison from one’s mistakes; I thought it was an apt metaphor for a band whose career length has doubled between albums. It feels even worse now. I’ve been numb lately to how you hold someone else’s pain in you for so long. No wonder it would be easier to “play Nagasaki”—pray for annihilation, learn to love the bomb.
Brand New’s best-known song is “Soco Amaretto Lime”, a simply strummed acoustic ballad about summer nights and feeling like you’re on top of the world. We voted it our prom song in high school. As I’ve gotten older, its central lyric has gone from being aspirational, about partying all night, to wistful and nostalgic for carefree days gone by. I turn 27 in a few days, and thinking about it in the wake of this moment, it feels like a eulogy for innocence itself. No one’s safe.
I’m gonna stay eighteen forever so we can stay like this forever.
The other thing I keep coming back to is that it’s not going to stop with Jesse Lacey and Louis CK and Matthew Weiner. This problem’s going to last more than the weekend. As much as I’d like one, there’s not some list of “non-shitty artists” so that the rug won’t get pulled out from under us again and the things that gave us comfort suddenly fall to ash in our mouths. As a man, I’d imagine this is a feeling women know better than most of us. We need to learn how to help make this world better, safer, and less broken. We need to be sorry for every moment that this woman and so many others suffer in victimized silence. It starts with believing women.
As I try to look for hope in a terrible moment, I’m most proud of the Chorus.fm community, which has come together in a way that has provided comfort, understanding, and openness for people who feel very lost right now. My favorite posts in the last 24 hours have just been a list of music by women artists that people have been using to cope: Julien Baker, Big Thief, Japanese Breakfast, Feist, Half Waif, Now Now, Mitski, Lorde. It reminds me that even if I’m never able to listen to a song by this band again without a pit in my stomach, there’s so many other talented artists who can take their place. There’s so much beauty in the world.
I have no idea how I’m going to feel in another day, week, month, year. As much as I want there to be a concrete answer on how to feel, I’m sure it will be a messy, complicated swirl of emotions instead. But I do know that I’m better at dealing with this stuff than I’ve been at other points in my life. Even if I can’t positively relate to the band who said “fight off your demons” again, I can take that mantra and those lessons and continue to grow. I don’t know what the best version of myself is, but I want to push myself to get there. I can always be better, so I will always try.
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